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PHOTO: Willie-Mays, Pedrín Zorilla & Rubén-Gómez

PHOTO: Roberto Clemente

PHOTO: Roberto Clemente

The largest and most populous district of the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, Santurce began originally as a settlement of African slaves and grew into a densely populated and ethnically diverse home of San Juan’s working class community. But then in the 1950s, the barrio seized fame as the absolute center of Caribbean baseball.

The Puerto Rican professional baseball league began in 1934 and for the decade or so, it had been dominated primarily by the ballclub from Ponce. Despite featuring American stars like Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, the latter of whom became the idol of a young Roberto Clemente, the Cangrejeros from Santurce always finished as an also-ran.

In 1950, however, Cangrejeros owner Pedrin Zorrilla brought in former Ponce manager George Scales, who had led the Leones to five titles, to become Santurce’s new skipper for the 1950-1951 season. With Scales at the helm and a lineup bolstered by a number of new players including star Puerto Rican outfielder Luis Olmo, the Cangrejeros won the Puerto Rican championship as well as the Caribbean Series, riding an MVP performance from Olmo in the latter competition.

In 1952, after losing the prior season’s championship series to the San Juan Senadores, Zorilla signed an 18-year-old outfielder named Roberto Clemente who had been making waves in the Puerto Rican amateur league. With Clemente in the leadoff spot and future Hall of Famer Willard “Home Run” Brown anchoring the heart of the order, the Cangrejeros claimed their second league title and then went undefeated in the 1953 Caribbean Series behind an MVP performance from Brown. In the six games of the tournament, Brown hit 4 homers, 3 doubles, scored 8 runs, and racked up 13 RBIs.

After another disappointing season for the Cangrejeros in 1953, Zorilla managed his best offseason feat yet in signing Willie Mays, who came to Santurce after finishing a season in the big leagues in which he won the National League MVP while leading the New York Giants to the 1954 World Series title.

PHOTO: Rubén Gómez & Willie Mays

With Mays in center, a now 20-year-old Clemente in right, and the veteran Olmo still with the club in left, the Cangrejeros boasted one of the great outfields in the history of the sport. Earning the nickname El Escuadron del Panico -- “The Panic Squad” -- the Cangrejeros again ran through both the Puerto Rican League and Caribbean Series en route to their third titles in each competition.

However, the MVP of the Caribbean Series in 1955 was neither Mays nor Clemente, but rather a young shortstop named Don Zimmer who came to Santurce from the Brooklyn Dodgers and would go on to a lengthy career as both a player and coach, notably serving as bench coach for Joe Torre’s New York Yankees.

PHOTO: Don Zimmer


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Author - JOSEPH SWIDE Ebbets Family / Contributor

7 comments

  • Ben Shapiro: July 17, 2018

    Joseph Swide, i have a question for you. in your research, have you ever come across a photograph of the Cangrejero jersey that had the “3 Championships in the 50s” patch on the sleeve (as is included in the 1954 home and road jersyes that ebbets sells)? i’ve looked and looked and i can’t find any evidence of that patch, but i doubt myself more than i doubt the ebbets research department.

  • Richard LoPresto: July 17, 2018

    Great stuff Joe – love it
    Clemente is my favorite player all time
    He is also the hero of a book I wrote and finished while I was in a wheelchair. I can walk again thanks to God.
    The book is called “ Old Timers Day”.
    We are making it into a movie!
    You can watch the trailer online if you google Celestial Baseball Assiciaton or my name.
    Can’t wait to read more of your wonderful writing!
    God bless,
    Richard LoPresto
    Hitting home runs for God

  • Frank Howard (not that Frank Howard): July 17, 2018

    Didn’t Bobo “No-Hit” Holloman pitch for the Cangrejeros for a season or two?

  • Jim Fallon: July 10, 2018

    I was born in PR in 1954…my Dad, an ex-big leaguer worked for Remington, but did some scouting for the Pirates. I can remember being in the dugout at Bithorn stadium at a very young age… I was a Ponce fan! Good stuff!

  • Hal Michael: July 10, 2018

    Willie in Center, Roberto in Right. That had to be one of the best outfields ever, regardless of league. I could have played Left and not really reduces the amount of ground covered. ’Ah, just play the line, we have the rest".

  • Tom Van Hyning: July 10, 2018

    Thanks for this magnificent blog! Editing items: Monte Irvin played for the rival San Juan Senadores, four seasons. Roberto Clemente was Santurce’s left fielder, 1954-55; Bob Thurman played right field; Willie Mays—center field. Luis Olmo came off the bench, as did Alfonso Gerard. The Puerto Rico League began as a Semi-Pro League in November 1938, before transitioning to a pro Winter League 1941-42. I wrote Puerto Rico’s Winter League (1995) and Santurce Crabbers (1999).

  • Roger Bow: July 10, 2018

    Wow, great to read about the Cangrejaro history! Thanks Joe! These details and pertinent facts are fantastic tie-ins to EFFs unique merchandise for Baseball fans. Love it.

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